Technical and Executive Recruiters

How to Master the Art of Interviewing

By Bill Radin

©1998 Innovative Consulting, Inc.
Career Development Reports

To a large degree, the success of your interview will depend on your ability to discover needs and empathize with the interviewer. You can do this by asking questions that verify your understanding of what the interviewer has just said, without editorializing or expressing an opinion. By establishing empathy in this manner, you’ll be in a better position to freely exchange ideas, and demonstrate your suitability for the job.

In addition to empathy, there are four other intangible fundamentals to a successful interview. These intangibles will influence the way your personality is perceived, and will affect the degree of rapport, or personal chemistry you’ll share with the employer.

  1. Enthusiasm — Leave no doubt as to your level of interest in the job. You may think it’s unnecessary to do this, but employers often choose the more enthusiastic candidate in the case of a two-way tie. Besides, it’s best to keep your options open — wouldn’t you rather be in a position to turn down an offer, than have a prospective job evaporate from your grasp by giving a lethargic interview?

  2. Technical interest — Employers look for people who love what they do, and get excited by the prospect of tearing into the nitty-gritty of the job.

  3. Confidence — No one likes a braggart, but the candidate who’s sure of his or her abilities will almost certainly be more favorably received.

  4. Intensity — The last thing you want to do is come across as “flat” in your interview. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a laid back person; but sleepwalkers rarely get hired.


THE OTHER FUNDAMENTALS



Since interviewing also involves the exchange of tangible information, make sure to:

  • Present your background in a thorough and accurate manner;

  • Gather data concerning the company, the industry, the position, and the specific opportunity;

  • Link your abilities with the company needs in the mind of the employer; and

  • Build a strong case for why the company should hire you, based on the discoveries you make from building rapport and asking the right questions.

Both for your sake and the employer’s, never leave an interview without exchanging fundamental information. The more you know about each other, the more potential you’ll have for establishing rapport, and making an informed decision.




BASIC INTERVIEWING STRATEGY


There are two ways to answer interview questions: the short version and the long version. When a question is open-ended, I always suggest to candidates that they say, “Let me give you the short version. If we need to explore some aspect of the answer more fully, I’d be happy togo into greater depth, and give you the long version.”

The reason you should respond this way is because it’s often difficult to know what type of answer each question will need. A question like,”What was your most difficult assignment?” might take anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes to answer, depending on the detail you choose to give.


Therefore, you must always remember that the interviewer’s the one who asked the question. So you should tailor your answer to what he or she needs to know, without a lot of extraneous rambling or superfluous explanation. Why waste time and create a negative impression by giving a sermon when a short prayer would do just fine?


By using this method, you telegraph to the interviewer that your thoughts are well organized, and that you want to understand the intent of the question before you travel too far in a direction neither of you wants to go. After you get the green light, you can spend your interviewing time discussing in detail the things that are important, not whatever happens to pop into your mind.





DON’T TALK YOURSELF OUT OF A JOB

I’ve got a friend who’s the hiring manager of an electronics company. He told me once that he brought a candidate into his office to make him a job offer. An hour later, the candidate left. I asked my friend if he had hired the candidate.


“No,” he said. “I tried. But the candidate wouldn’t stop talking long enough for me to make him an offer.”


Don’t misinterpret me. I’m not suggesting that an interview should consist of a series of monosyllabic grunts. It’s just that nothing turns off an employer faster than a windbag candidate.


By using the short version/long version method to answer questions, you’ll never talk yourself out of a job.




THE PRUDENT USE OF QUESTIONS


Beware: An interview will quickly disintegrate into an interrogation or monologue unless you ask some high quality questions of your own. Candidate questions are the lifeblood of any successful interview, because they:

  • Create dialogue, which will not only enable the two of you to learn more about each other, but will help you visualize what it’ll be like working together once you’ve been hired;

  • Clarify your understanding of the company and the position responsibilities;

  • Indicate your grasp of the fundamental issues discussed so far;

  • Reveal your ability to probe beyond the superficial; and

  • Challenge the employer to reveal his or her own depth of knowledge, or commitment to the job.

Your questions should always be slanted in such a way as to show empathy, interest, or understanding of the employer’s needs. After all, the reason you’re interviewing is because the employer’s company has some piece of work which needs to be completed, or a problem that needs correcting. Here are some questions that have proven to be very effective:

  • What’s the most important issue facing your department?

  • How can I help you accomplish this objective?

  • How long has it been since you first identified this need?

  • How long have you been trying to correct it?

  • Have you tried using your present staff to get the job done? What was the result?

  • What other means have you used? For example, have you brought in independent contractors, or temporary help, or employees borrowed from other departments? Or have you recently hired people who haven’t worked out?

  • Is there any particular skill or attitude you feel is critical to getting the job done?

  • Is there a unique aspect of my background that you’d like to exploit in order to help accomplish your objectives?

Questions like these will not only give you a sense of the company’s goals and priorities, they’ll indicate to the interviewer your concern for satisfying the company’s objectives.




MONEY, MONEY, MONEY


There’s a good chance you’ll be asked about your current and expected level of compensation. Here’s the way to handle the following questions:

  1. What are you currently earning?

    Answer:

    “My compensation, including bonus, is in the high-forties. I’m expecting my annual review next month, and that should put me in the low-fifties.”

  2. What sort of money would you need in order to come to work for our company?


    Answer:

    “I feel that the opportunity is the most important issue, not salary. If we decide to work together, I’m sure you’ll make me a fair offer.”

Notice the way a range was given as the answer to question [1], not a specific dollar figure. However, if the interviewer presses for a exact answer, then by all means, be precise, in terms of salary, bonus, benefits, expected increase, and so forth.


In answer to question [2], getting locked in to an exact figure may work against you later, in one of two ways: either the number you give is lower than you really want to accept; or the number appears too high or too low to the employer, and an offer never comes.




SOME QUESTIONS YOU CAN COUNT ON

There are four types of questions that interviewers like to ask.


First, there are the resume questions. These relate to your past experience, skills, job responsibilities, education, upbringing, personal interests, and so forth.


Resume questions require accurate, objective answers, since your resume consists of facts which tend to be quantifiable (and verifiable). Try to avoid answers which exaggerate your achievements, or appear to be opinionated, vague, or egocentric.


Second, interviewers will usually want you to comment on your abilities, or assess your past performance. They’ll ask self-appraisal questions like, “What do you think is your greatest asset?” or, “Can you tell me something you’ve done that was very creative?”


Third, interviewers like to know how you respond to different stimuli. Situation questions ask you to explain certain actions you took in the past, or require that you explore hypothetical scenarios that may occur in the future. “How would you stay profitable during a recession?” or, “How would you go about laying off 1300 employees?” or, “How would you handle customer complaints if the company drastically raised its prices?” are typical situation questions.


And lastly, some employers like to test your mettle with stress questions such as, “After you die, what would you like your epitaph to read?” or, “If you were to compare yourself to any U.S. president, who would it be?” or, “It’s obvious your background makes you totally unqualified for this position. Why should we even waste our time talking?”


Stress questions are designed to evaluate your emotional reflexes, creativity, or attitudes while you’re under pressure. Since off-the-wall or confrontational questions tend to jolt your equilibrium, or put you in a defensive posture, the best way to handle them is to stay calm and give carefully considered answers.


If you don’t know the answer to a question, just say so, or ask for a moment to think about your response.




WRAPPING IT UP


At the conclusion of your interview, you can wrap up any unfinished business you failed to cover so far, and begin to explore the future of your candidacy.


During your interview wrap-up, it’s a good practice to make the interviewer aware of other opportunities you’re exploring, as long as they’re genuine, and their timing has some bearing on your own decision making.


And remember to maintain a positive attitude. In today’s job market, you’d be surprised how often victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat.


The better your interviewing skills, the greater your chances of getting the job.